South Sudan’s army massacred civilians, burned children alive and gang-raped women after a supposed ceasefire with rebels in December, according to reports by monitors appointed by the country’s East African neighbours on a five-year-old civil war.
South Sudan, which won independence from Sudan in 2011, denied targeting civilians and called the reports, compiled by the Juba-based CTSAMM monitoring group, exaggerated.
The 14 CTSAMM reports accuse rebels led by former deputy president Riek Machar of using child soldiers denied by a Machar spokesman.
The reports have not been publicly released despite pledges by leaders of South Sudan’s neighbours to name those who violated the December ceasefire and punish them.
CTSAMM released five reports on ceasefire violations within a month of the deal but withheld findings on other breaches since February.
A spokesman for the IGAD regional grouping that controls CTSAMM did not respond to Reuters requests for comment.
In the worst incident in the reports, a group of 200 government soldiers attacked Nyatot in Upper Nile state on Febuary 12. Civilian survivors interviewed said they were “shooting randomly at everything and everybody”.
Twenty-two civilians were killed and 72 wounded, the monitoring team said.
Gordon Buay, an official at South Sudan’s embassy in Washington, said troops targeted rebels in Nyatot, not civilians.
“Any civilian killed was not intentional. It was crossfire,” he told Reuters.
In an attack on Modit in Jonglei state on February 26, government forces razed buildings, looted a Christian charity and killed five people, including four children burned alive when the hut where they had sought refuge was torched, one report said.
“Soldiers stood at the door to ensure the children remained inside and they were eventually burnt to death,” the report said. Buay said that allegation was “politically exaggerated”.
The reports blame government forces for the vast majority of documented abuses, one blames Machar loyalists and another rebel group for fighting that led to civilian deaths.
Another report accused Machar rebels of using child soldiers around Wau.
A spokesman for Machar, under de facto house arrest in South Africa for the last 18 months, questioned the accuracy of the report, saying the unit commander may have gone rogue.
“We are not in touch with that guy,” the spokesman said.
Tens of thousands have been killed in South Sudan’s war, which began in December 2013 with fighting been soldiers loyal to President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, and Machar, an ethnic Nuer.
Reports of ethnically targeted violence and killing have been widespread and a third of South Sudan’s 12 million people have fled. Parts of the country experienced famine last year.
Talks in Ethiopia to revive a failed 2015 peace pact broke down last week.